The Eagles are entering their Week 14 contest against the Rams coming off a tough 24-10 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle. It's always tough to play at CenturyLink Field — particularly in a primetime game. But Philadelphia's offense showed just how good it can be, racking up 425 yards against Seattle's vaunted defense.
Turnovers were the difference in that game, as Philly finished with two giveaways to Seattle's zero.
But led by second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles have been explosive offensively all year. Wentz has turned into an MVP candidate, completing 60.7 percent of his passes for 3,005 yards with a league-leading 29 touchdowns and six interceptions. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said this week that Wentz's rapid development between Year 1 and Year 2 goes back to what happened in the offseason.
Not only did Wentz have a chance to meet and study more with Pederson, but Philadelphia also added talent and playmakers around the young QB.
"He came back energetic," Pederson said of Wentz returning in OTAs. "He was obviously the leader and the face of the franchise and the whole thing — really embraced the new free agents in Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffrey and LeGarrette Blount and guys like that on offense. And [he was] still working with Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor and it just carried over into training camp.
"And again, it's just the way he prepares, the way he studies, the way he pays attention to detail," Pederson continued. "[H]is accuracy obviously has improved this season, a lot more accurate with his throws, decision-making, things like that. So, those are all things that we've seen and still has a lot of room to grow."
Wentz echoed his head coach on the source of his development this season.
"I think just me and everybody along with me just being in the system more," Wentz said. "Coach Pederson tweaking things here and there and just brainstorming different ideas. Both he and I get together a lot and just talk through things. Then just having that full offseason, like I said. With that full offseason back to OTAs all the way through with the same guys just getting dialed in."
All the skill players the Eagles have added around Wentz appear to have worked out this season. Pederson mentioned how the Eagles signed wideouts Smith and Jeffrey. But it's former USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor who may be making the biggest difference. The No. 20 overall pick in 2015 has been significantly better in 2017, already reaching career highs in receptions (40), yards receiving (599), and touchdowns (seven). Just last week, Agholor made seven receptions for 141 yards with a touchdown against Seattle.
"I think, too, that the addition of Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith on offense, takes a little pressure off him, took a little weight off his shoulders," Pederson said of Agholor. "We were able to move him into the slot with the injury to Jordan Mathews back in the spring before we made the trade to Buffalo with him. Nelson just embraced coming inside. Playing in that slot. A new role. He changed his number. He wanted to just get back to his old identity."
Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman was Agholor's teammate at USC, so he knows a bit of what to expect from the wideout.
"Nelson's a pretty good player — quick off the line, he does a lot of great things. He's making plays, nothing but good things to say about him," Robey-Coleman said.
The run game has also been a significant boost to Wentz's development, which comes into this weekend ranked at No. 2. Blount has led the charge all year, but adding Jay Ajayi — who came over in a deadline trade with the Dolphins — has been beneficial, too. He's averaging 7.9 yards per carry for Philadelphia.
Check out photos of the Rams taking on the Eagles throughout the years.
But Wentz can run the ball, too, as Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips pointed out on Thursday. He has 183 yards rushing with 27 first downs gained with his feet.
"They have a really good running game with their backs, but any time you have a quarterback that adds the yardage, it makes you one of the top rushing teams, too," Phillips said.
But what makes everything go is the Eagles' offensive line, which has opened up gaping run lanes and done a really nice job of giving the quarterback time in the pocket. Wentz has been sacked just five times in the last four games — all of which have come after Philadelphia lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters for the season to a knee injury.
"They are doing a good job protecting, obviously up front. But I think what's better is he as good pocket presence," defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. "Guys are winning one-on-one rushes all the time, but with his pocket awareness, he slides and scoots and gets out of the way. And if something happens where we're in man and everybody is locked up he ends up running. So it's really a testament to him and his ability to get out of pressure."
When Wentz does get out of the pocket, he can run or throw. Just last week, on 3rd-and-13 deep in Philadelphia territory, Wentz bailed out of the pocket to his right, and just before he was sacked launched a terrific deep pass to Agholor that went for 51 yards.
"They have a good squad over there with a lot of playmakers and at anytime they can score," outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. "Honestly, we just have to be disciplined as a defense, try not to make the game bigger than what it is and have a little fun out there."
Robey-Coleman said the Rams also must be on point with their technique in order to combat this multi-faceted offense.
"It's going to be vital to the way we do things out there on the football field," Robey-Coleman said. "I feel like if we believe in our technique, work on that every single day and make the plays that come to us we should be okay on Sunday. But for the most part we have to catch the ball when it comes to us, when we get those opportunities and make the other team pay. On the backend, we're confident and we have swag so we're going to try to keep that all the way through Sunday."